Respecting Our Elders

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Orthodox Christianity makes great use of the reverence of icons. An icon is a painted image which portrays a Saint, Jesus Christ, the Theotokos (the Mother of God) or can even express a theological or dogmatic truth. The belief is that the manifestation of a human being’s maturity is found in their desire to express respect to the Saints and Ancestors who have given us our lives, who have passed down truth to us, and whose own lives inspire us to live our lives better.

In any Orthodox home there is an Icon Corner or Shrine. If at all possible it will be in the East corner of the home. It may have icons of the Name Saints of the family members, icons of Jesus and the Theotokos, or various other meaningful icons. Usually there is a shelf below the icons to hold a candle and an incense burner. When one prays, expressing respect, one lights the candles and burns incense.  The smoke of the incense ascends, following our prayers upwards.

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This Orthodox expressing of reverence and respect extends to relics of saints. In no small way, I see this same reverence in the Hawaiian understanding of mana, and of treating “the shrine of the body” that carried that mana with great respect.  There is too little respect in the world these days.  People in line get pissed off when the elderly person slowly counts out coins for the cashier.  People want the elderly to tell their stories faster! In short, many people want the elderly out of the way!

Western so-called “civilization” can learn important lessons by watching the way in which Hawaiians treat their elderly!  There is time enough for the elderly to tell their stories which, in the telling of the past inform the keiki who they are today; to know from whom one has come is to know who one is!  Without the elderly and all that they have to tell, Hawaiʻi would cease to be itself!

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After observing Thanksgiving last year I wonder if I am thankful enough for my own Mom who is 86, hard of hearing and simply wants to be connected to her five children.  While we rush about our busy lives sometimes we’re annoyed by the connection that she wants. This next year I am going to try to be more Hawaiian in my approach to Mom and less Western, more respectful and less dismissive, more grateful and less self-centered… to give more Aloha to Mom!

Kahu Kimo

[Ed.Note: this post was originally published 4 years ago, and Mom just passed in January 2016 after 5 years of sometimes fiesty yet mostly-contented living in a lovely, warm exceptionally staffed retirement home in Hilton Head, SC.  She is greatly missed. Kahu succeeded in giving her tremendous Aloha!]

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